How to Hire/Spot the Best Talent

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Before I made the career change from copywriter to agency owner, I thought employees fell into three basic categories. First were the Savvy Politicos, people with an innate set of skills. They know how to kiss-up, avert blame, look busy and take credit. They often move up in the organization. The second type I’ll call the Naïve-But-Gifted. They are highly talented but devoid of street smarts. They lack the instinct that tells you: “If I keep proving I have more talent than my boss, I could be in danger.” And the third type is the Corporate Roach -- the person who manages to keep a low profile -- always surviving from one regime change to the next.

Once I started hiring people, it changed how I viewed things. It turns out Savvy Politicos play a vital role; you need the alpha dogs in a competitive industry. And the Naïve-But-Gifted are often your best thinkers. As
for the Corporate Roach, loyalty is a plus, and, in the words of one CEO and former mentor, “Who else knows the whole history of the company?”

Fast-forward. The economy sucks. Everybody is operating lean. For business owners, this means a sizable portion of your staff is made up of contract employees -- freelancers who fill a short-term need and permalancers who work full-time but are not “on staff.” They often come from professional recruiting firms who do the vetting. But the experience can leave you wondering, “Do I really know what I’m getting?”

I once witnessed a freelance designer sit in front of his computer screen for an entire day. Doing nothing! It was a difficult design project, granted, but he didn’t have the confidence to ask for help. And he billed an eight-hour day. I’ve seen senior-level talent loaded up with digital cut and paste. And people who spend their day on Facebook. Contract employees? Great concept. But there needs to be a better way to connect expectations with outcomes.

Here’s a simple formula. Forget all the traditional type casting. People basically fall into two categories: owners and renters. The mindsets are very different and easy to spot. One says “I need to understand your client’s business well enough to do a great job for you.” They do not perceive a barrier between themselves and management. They have the confidence to ask for what they need to succeed. They make suggestions to improve the project. They surprise and delight you with the quality of their work. They don’t engage in gossip. They make you feel like you’ve just played tennis with a pro and your game is better for it.

That’s an owner.

One says “Yup, got it” and -- hours later -- demonstrates the opposite. They look for likely friends. They take frequent Facebook breaks. They avoid management. They don’t ask the right questions. You pay for their time and do it over.

That’s a renter.

You pick!

Brooke Lighton is a principal at Connascent, Inc., a branding and sales consulting firm based in Chicago. Brooke is a native New Yorker who started her career as a science writer at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. She segued into advertising, working first as a copywriter at Ogilvy & Mather and later as a Group CD at Foote Cone & Belding. In 1988, Brooke launched her own agency, Lighton Colman. She is a principal and heads creative services for Connascent, a branding and sales consulting firm. You can see their work at

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